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tv   Nightline  ABC  February 7, 2011 11:35pm-12:00am PST

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. tonight on "nightline," world exclusive. diane sawyer goes head to head with donald rumsfeld in a tv first. the former secretary of defense opens up as never before. the controversy, the war, the wmds and the big question, what did he get wrong? plus, the man whose public face has been stoney defiance gets emotional for the first time about his private trials at home during his tenure at the pentagon. an eye-opening surprising interview starts right now.
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good evening, everyone. aisle bill weir. every war has its own signature images and when it comes to iraq and afghanistan, the sight and sound of donald rumsfeld at the pentagon podium is woven into american history. his defiant management of those wars made the former secretary of defense one of the most polarizing political figures of the post-9/11 age but in this his first television interview since 2006 you will see donald rumsfeld as never before. he reveals a tender side and valuable insight into the decisions that have so many young americans still in harm's way tonight. here with the world exclusive is diane sawyer. >> i've answered that question 15 times. >> reporter: formidable, combative. >> if they said what you said you said -- >> reporter: the title of his memoir "known and unknown" is based on one of his famous lectures to a confounded press. >> as we know, there are known knowns. there are things we know we know. we also know there are known
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unknowns, that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know, but there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don't know we don't know. >> donald h. rumsfeld. >> reporter: a single force elected to congress when he was 30 years old, the youngest secretary of defense under gerald ford and oldest brought back by the son of a man who had been his adversary. george h.w. bush was said to have believed it was rumsfeld who pushed him out of a shot at a national campaign and into the cia. what was your estimation of george h.w. bush. >> i never worked for him. >> reporter: admire him enormously. >> no, no, no, i was kind of disappointed in him. he decided he wanted to leave people with the impression he didn't want to go to the cia and that someone made him go there and it was probably rumsfeld or something. i didn't find that impressive. >> reporter: so his son calls you in. >> i was amazed. i was amazed.
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and it shows a lot about george w. bush that he's his own man. >> reporter: just mine months into the bush administration suddenly rumsfeld's office seemed to shake. a plane had hit the pentagon. he raced toward the smoke. >> i came around that corner down there. >> reporter: right. >> and it was -- it was just in flame, in smoke. >> reporter: you could see him helping carry the stretchers of some of the wounded. >> this was the first war of the 21st century. i had to impose a sense of you are ji sen. there wasn't a guide book or a map or some program that said here's how you do this. we had to figure it out. >> reporter: and he told us as all this was unfolding on the national stage he was also struggling with a family crisis. >> rumsfeld's son addicted to drugs. he would disappear sometimes for months. the president consoled. the president said you were in tears.
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>> i think that's right. he reached out and said, you know, tell me about it and you start talking about it and it's hard to talk about it because it's a wonderful human being that you love and you want him to be better, and he is, god bless him. >> reporter: the parallel demands of home and what he says was happening after 9/11. he writes that the president asked him to review what it would take to go to war with iraq. the president and i had many discussions about war preparations. i do not recall his ever asking me if it was the right decision. no one asked -- no one polled the room said is this the right decision. >> no, the president talked about it and people talked, discussed it with him, elms of
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it and i didn't feel people saying they felt strongly whether they should or shouldn't. >> reporter: you say at one point. >> -- colin powell was against it but i never saw the hint of it. >> saddam hussein and his regime are concealing their efforts to produce more weapons of mass destruction. >> reporter: you believed absolutely categorically saddam hussein had weapons of mass destruction? >> i don't do a lot of things categorically. anyone who has been around intelligence gathering knows that it can be wrong. i mean colin powell has been around for longer than anybody. >> he said he was devastated. >> of course, he was. everyone was but, my lord, he's the guy who had more experience than anyone else. he worked hard with george tenet, condi rice. he prepared his speech. went up to the u.n. made his case. he wasn't lying. the idea that he was lying or duped is nonsense. he believed it. our military believed it. our military got chemical weapon
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suits on to protect them. >> reporter: but you were wrong. >> my goodness, the intelligence was certainly wrong. >> reporter: if you had known he did not have them. >> i didn't know. >> reporter: if you had -- >> i didn't. >> reporter: if you had -- >> i have no idea. i have no idea. what you know today can help you on things you're thinking about tomorrow. it can't you with things you were thinking about back then. back then there was reasonable confidence that he had these weapons. i also will say that if president bush and i both pressed to have him leave the country at the end. >> saddam hussein and his sons must leave iraq within 48 hours. their refusal to do so will result in military conflict. >> i wanted to avoid a war and so did the president. >> reporter: his book he writes a chapter about the deteriorating situation called too many hands on the steering wheel. he has strong opinions about the
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shortcomings of his former colleagues. national security adviser condoleezza rice. >> she'd never served in a senior administration position. she'd been an academic and you know a lot of academics like to have meetings. >> reporter: and secretary of state colin powell. >> he did not in my view do a good job of managing the people under him and there was a lot of leaking out of the state department and the president knew it, and it was unhelpful. >> reporter: not long after the invasion, iraq began to unravel. casualties are mounting and rumsfeld's critics say his ferocious position in favor of a lean, pared down fighting force suppressed debate about sending in more troops. you write in the book "in retrospect there may have been times more troops could have been useful." >> it's possible. >> reporter: were you too very to react. >> oh, maybe. i don't know. >> reporter: do you revisit that? did you say did that cost lives? >> well, you know, in a war,
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many things cost lives. >> reporter: but already lessons to be learned. >> sure. there will be all kinds of people to learn the lessons of afghanistan, iraq, the war on terror. >> reporter: everybody is so eager to know what is the lesson you learned about you? >> oh, my goodness, i don't really think that way. i wasn't worried about me. i was worried about the country. >> reporter: but rumsfeld's critics also say that from the beginning his press conferences seemed to show a man in denial. >> what plan was there to restore law and order? >> think what's happening in our cities when we've had riots and problems and looting. stuff happens. >> reporter: you say i realized i made a mistake. >> once those words come out, sure. what i said was perfectly fine and rational. once you do a bumper sticker you're asking for trouble. fortunately it's the only mistake i ever made. no, not quite. >> reporter: but others say they
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it was 2004 when he wases in iraq involved into deadly chaos and they became familiar with abu ghraib and the first calls for donald rumsfeld's resignation rang out in earnest and got louder when a bunch of generals joined chorus. what if anything would he have done differently? diane sawyer's interview continues. >> reporter: april 2006, it was called the generals' revolt.
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>> i think he should resign. >> should someone resign? >> absolutely. >> who? >> secretary of defense. >> reporter: when all those generals came forward. >> uh-huh. >> all those. there were a handful of them. come on. >> reporter: they came forward in chorus. >> yeah, they did. there was a group that were disgruntled. in fact, i had not met some of them. >> reporter: and you say this didn't get to you. >> well, no. i mean, it goes with the territory. on the other hand, a general stepped up and said it's not so. >> reporter: what about the accounts that he was so brusque, even frightening, terrifying to subordinates in the pentagon. and they used those words like micromanaging, terrifying, dismissive. >> oh, the poor people, i terrified them, my goodness. come on. these are people with stars on their shoulders. they're people who are patriots, they're people who have fought battles, and they weren't terrified or intimidated. my goodness gracious. i ask tough questions. there's no question about it. and if someone doesn't know the
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answer, it's not fun for them. >> reporter: the president says he was frustrated sometimes with your abruptness to military leaders, towards the staff. >> well, you know, it's too bad. he believed, apparently believed the mythology that was perpetrated in the press. >> reporter: but the most damning accusations against rumsfeld were about what happen add after december 2002. as secretary of defense he authorized tougher interrogation methods, ones that went beyond those in the military handbook. he did not approve waterboarding but among the things he permitted were removal of clothing, use be phobias like fear of dogs. he maintains he order was from mohamed al kahtani that was supposed to be a hijacker on 9/11 but didn't make it. >> qahtani was the 20th hijacker. he gave a lot of information and it was very helpful to our interrogators and to the united states government in saving lives and i think that the fact
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that we haven't had an attack in a decade is a credit to that administration, the bush administration and to him. >> reporter: people have listed what was done to him, isolated 30 day, nudity. at one point his heart rate dropped to 35 beats per minute. he had bras and panties on his head. >> i didn't approve any of that. and when i found out that they had done some of those thing, the people who had done things that had not been approved were dealt with. they were stopped and prosecuted. >> reporter: but then something even worse. triggering, he says, his greatest regret. you write in the book "more than anything else, i have failed to do, i regret i did not leave." >> after abu ghraib, yeah. that was such a stain on our country. to think that people in our custody were treated in that disgusting and perverted and
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ghastly way. unacceptable way. there wasn't an easy target so i stepped up and told the president i thought i should resign and i think probably he and the military and the pentagon and the country would have been better off if i had. >> reporter: rumsfeld says twice he gave the president letters of resignation. twice the president refused so he stayed. but the criticism kept mounting as he described this period and his wife of 54 years, his ballast. he wept that a medical mistake that nearly cost her her life. >> she was dying, i remember looking at joyce in the hospital bed and she looked just like her mother who died in her 90s and she was that bad. so i would -- trying to think i'd charge in there, 6:00 in the morning, break through the hospital hours, go to work, come
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back, you know, 10 or so at night and see her. it was terrible. just terrible. hard. but she's fine. >> reporter: as the war escalated the violent insurgency, ied casualties and we all remember the soldier in kuwait who tried to tell rumsfeld that the armer was so bad on his vehicles, the troops were forced to use trash metal to try to do it themselves. >> we do not have proper armament vehicles. >> as you know, you go to war with the army you have and not the army you might want. >> reporter: insensitive is the word used. >> oh, by some journalists. was it sensitive, no. go back and read the whole thing. i cared deeply about the troops and the answer reflects it. >> when i was asked if i had confidence in rumsfeld, i said i
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did not. >> reporter: but from mccain to lindsey graham, he was being challenged. >> what do you say to those calling for your resignation. >> in baseball it's three strikes, you're out. what is it for the secretary of defense? >> reporter: just before the election of 2006, his friend of 38 years, vice president dick cheney called to make it clear the president had decided it was over. did it feel like being fired? >> no, it was the right thing. and i told the president that the next day when i met with him. >> reporter: today rumsfeld says his critics including barack obama have had a reality check. >> for all the criticism of president bush and the people working around him, for the things he put in place, the patriot act, the guantanamo bay, you know, a lot of people criticized them and fussed at it. the fact is they're still there. why are they still there? they're there because they make sense in the 21st century.
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they need it and the new administration has not been able to figure out a better way to do it. >> reporter: when we come back we ask him one more time about the price of long wars and whether he has regret. well, hotels know they can't fill every room every day. like this one. and this one. and oops, my bad. so, they give expedia ginormous discounts with these: unpublished rates. which means i get an even more rockin' hotel, for less. my brain didn't even break a sweat. where you book matters. expedia. affect wheat output in the u.s., the shipping industry in norway, and the rubber industry, in south america? at t. rowe price, we understand the connections of a complex global economy. it's just one reason over 80% of our mutual funds beat their 10-year lipper average.
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today more than 4400 american lives have been lost in iraq, nearly 1500 in afghanistan age in the final segment of diane sawyer's exclusive interview with donald rumsfeld she asked if any of those casualties have been hard to live with and the answer may surprise you. >> nice to see you. hi there. good to see you. greetings. >> reporter: we took rumsfeld to the pentagon and it's clear walking the 17 miles of hall, here -- >> my uncle used to work for you. >> reporter: -- he is the stuff of legend. at one point we stopped. these are artists' portraits of
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300 of the faces of so many fallen. >> each one, a different life, a different circumstance. god bless them. >> reporter: i asked him what about something another secretary of defense once said. it was robert mcnamara, the architect of vietnam. any military commander who is honest with you will say he's made mistakes which have cost lives. >> well, you're dealing with lives. there's no question, if a mistake is made by you or anyone else, it can contribute to the loss of life. that's the nature of it. it is a very difficult thing to ask people to go into battle. >> reporter: is it hard to live with? >> i have so much respect for the men and women in uniform that they're all haves, they all asked to serve. each one said send me. i think the world is a better place with saddam hussein gone and with the taliban gon

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